Europol says no to Anonymity

Europol logo

Cyber crime is on the increase and in the European Union the fight against this falls on Europol (European Police Office). In a recent interview with the BBC, the head of Europol, Troels Oerting has stated that they believe that in total there are only around 100 good programmers behind the majority of the worlds cyber crime related problems. Gone are the days where those interested in cyber crime required the skills to create the software or exploits to carry out the crime, cyber crime has now gone commercial and anyone with funds to spare can purchase pre-packaged solutions to aid them in their criminal quest.

Europol playing catch up

Criminals are always one step ahead of law enforcement and while organisations such as Europol and national police forces play catch up, criminals usually evade the law by residing in countries that are lax on prosecuting those involved in cyber crime. While it is true that those creating the tools to carry out such crimes reside in Russia and Russian speaking countries, which could be considered the “brains” behind the operations, the actual users of the software that is created can span the globe and reside in nearly every country possible.

With the ever increasing threats, Europol are concerned that there is a disparity in how we see the relationship between Privacy and Anonymity and how the latter is hampering organisations such as Europol’s ability to catch criminals and ultimately reduce cyber crime. Europol head, Troels Oerting stated :-

There is confusion among the good guys on the internet between anonymity and privacy. I don’t think they are the same. I think that you have right to privacy but that doesn’t mean that you have the right to anonymity

Privacy and Anonmity?

The question of if a user has the right to anonymity online that they may not necessarily have in everyday life is a tough one to answer, in some ways it is agreeable that if the online world is a basic extension of our real world then why should we be allowed anonymity online when we in reality don’t have such a possibility in the real world. On the other hand it could be argued that because of mass surveillance, Governments have opened up a can of worms for themselves and the average citizen is just fighting back against this. Oerting went on to say :-

The increasing trend towards greater encryption of online communications is not acceptable

Imagine in the physical world if you were not able to open the trunk of a car if you had a suspicion that there were weapons or drugs inside… we would never accept this.

I think that should also count for the digital world. I hate to talk about backdoors but there has to be a possibility for law enforcement, if they are authorised, to look inside at what you are hiding in your online world.

The topic of Privacy and Anonymity go hand in hand, these two words in our world today have become interchangeable and for many for one to exist the other needs to be available. We often believe because of revelations of the previous few years that for us to protect our own Privacy that we now need Encryption. While this is somewhat true we must ask ourselves, who are we wanting to keep ourselves private from?

Who is at fault?

While I whole heartedly disagree with mass surveillance, I am not against criminal investigations that prevent crimes taking place or resolving crimes by way of investigation. As we have learnt, mass surveillance is being carried out, this has lead to many encrypting their online use through such methods like VPN use, making use of encrypted chat systems etc. Had Governments not stooped to such low levels of dragnet data gathering then everyday citizens may never have felt inclined to go to such levels.

Some good points are raised by Oerting, however on the other side of the fence their are genuine and valid arguments in answer. Can we expect to live in a world that is safe from crime while also expecting to encrypt our activities. What is available to myself and you are also available to criminal networks, are we prepared to live in a world that enables that?

Christopher Seward

Author: Christopher Seward

After 25 years of using the internet, Christopher launched one of the very first VPN comparison websites in 2013. An expert in the field his reviews, testing and knowledge have helped thousands of users get the correct VPN for their needs.

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